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Aggie Agora Coffee Hour with Jennifer Clement
Thu, April 6, 2017, 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM CDT
Aggie Agora Coffee Hour with Jennifer Clement. Please join Aggie Agora for coffee, cookies and a conversation with Jennifer Clement. Coffee and cookies provided. RSVP Required.
Clement’s Prayers for the Stolen, published in 2014 by Hogarth, is a coming of age story related in first-person narrative by Ladydi Garcia Martínez. For the teenage Ladydi, coming of age in the Mexican state of Guerrero is a period of tremendous danger because of the high rate of disappearance of young women from rural villages. On the opening page, Ladydi, named for Princess Diana, relates, “I have brown skin, brown eyes, and brown frizzy hair, and look like everyone else I know. As a child my mother used to dress me up as a boy and call me Boy. . . . If I were a girl then I would be stolen.”
Ladydi’s community of rural women and girls, whose husbands and fathers have migrated North for work, lives constantly in fear of the sound of the “black Escalades” of the drug traffickers who carry girls off. As protection against this powerful foe, the mothers make their daughters boys, make their daughters ugly, and dig holes in the fields to hide them.
Despite such efforts, Ladydi’s beautiful best friend Paula is taken by drug traffickers, and, unlike the other girls who never come back, Paula returns a year later, physically and mentally marked by her year as a sex slave. Ladydi’s narrative grapples with Paula’s fate and the position of girls and women more generally as it interweaves girlhood memories with her unknowing involvement in a cartel murder and her migration to Acapulco to work as a domestic servant.
Although the issues that Prayers takes on are both heartbreaking and horrifying, Clement relates them with compelling poetic language and even humor. Ladydi’s mother, whose main link to the outside world is via a satellite dish, makes frequent references to documentaries from the History Channel and has constructed an altar for Oprah (called Opera) next to her altar for the Virgin de Guadalupe. Franciso Goldman in the New York Times describes Prayers as simultaneously “harrowing,” “beguiling, and even crazily enchanting.”
Although Prayers is fictional, Clement has rooted her novel in more than a decade of research. She writes, “I have spent over ten years listening to women affected by Mexico’s violence as I was interested in writing about women in Mexico’s drug culture,” adding, “I interviewed the girlfriends, wives and daughters of drug traffickers and quickly came to realize that Mexico is a warren of hidden women.” For Clement, Prayers represents “a community, like so many in rural Mexico, that has been decimated by drug traffickers, government agricultural policies and illegal immigration.”
In 2014 Clement was awarded the Sara Curry Humanitarian Award for Prayers for the Stolen. Prayers was a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice Book, First Selection for National Reading Group Month’s Great Group Reads and appeared internationally on many “Best Books of the Year” lists, including that of The Irish Times. The novel was also a finalist for 2015′s PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
Clement has authored two additional novels, A True Story Based on Lies and The Poison That Fascinates, and the acclaimed memoir Widow Basquiat (about the painter Jean Michel Basquiat and New York City in the early 1980s). Clement is also the author of several books of poetry: The Next Stranger; Newton’s Sailor; Lady of the Broom and Jennifer Clement: New and Selected Poems.
Clement grew up in Mexico City, Mexico. She studied English Literature and Anthropology at New York University and also studied French Literature in Paris, France. She has an MFA from the University of Southern Maine.
Jennifer Clement is the President of PEN International, an organization celebrating literature and defending freedom of expression across the globe. She is the first woman to be elected President since the organization was founded in 1921. From 2009 to 2012, Clement was president of PEN Mexico and her work focused on the disappearance and killing of journalists.